UFC Fight Night 52 September 20, 2014 Welterweight Matchup: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs Amir Sadollah By @fightnomics Big Picture: In the third to last fight from Japan are two fighters that casual fans may not even remember, as neither has been in the Octagon since 2012. Between injuries and reality TV shows, Amir Sadollah and Yoshihiro Akiyama have both been on the sidelines from active fighting, and the idea of Ring Rust presents big unknowns for this matchup. Akiyama’s contender days are behind him, but former dark horse TUF winner Sadollah certainly hopes he has several good years of fighting ahead. It’s an odd spot for both men, perhaps especially Sadollah as the underdog coming into Japan against a huge local celebrity. Currently, Akiyama is slightly favored at -165, with Sadollah the underdog at +145. There are a lot of unknowns here in terms of conditioning and motivation, so let’s check their historical metrics to see if there are some hints. Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: The traditional metrics on the Tale of the Tape immediately highlight the age of the two fighters. Akiyama is now one of the oldest competitors on the UFC roster, and Sadollah, quite surprisingly, is approaching the 35-year threshold for “old” in the sport. Otherwise, the two are evenly built in reach and use the same stance. Overall, there’s a 5-year Youth Advantage that gives the Tale of the Tape edge to Sadollah. Striking Matchup: The striking metrics are mixed here, but overall favor Sadollah to win rounds. His Muay Thai strikes come at a very fast pace, averaging nearly 18 strike attempts per minute while standing, which is the highest of any fighter on the card. Akiyama has generally been a counter-striker, keeping a lower overall pace and also exhibiting poor head strike avoidance. While Akiyama may be more accurate with his hands, he’ll be on the losing end of the volume game that could cost him rounds. Akiyama is clearly a headhunter, focusing 92% of his standing strikes at the head of his opponent. Sadollah on the other hand, will be the one kicking much more often, throwing a third of his strikes at the body or legs. It’s hard to tell how this will play out; if Akiyama will use those kicks as a takedown opening, or if the sheer volume of diverse strikes will impress judges to lean Sadollah’s way. Historically, it’s been Sadollah that is the more efficient and effective striker, generally outlanding his opponents for each minute of fight time, while Akiyama has absorbed a lot of punishment compared to what he puts out. Grappling Matchup: The styles of these two fighters on the mat are quite different, as Akiyama is one of the more decorated judokas in the UFC who doesn’t have a blond ponytail. And this is where Akiyama will likely have the clearest advantage, having scored more career wins by submission than any other method. His takedown defense is an impressive 92%, leading to an overall ground control stat of 89%. Sadollah on the other hand, may not be very decorated, but used slick submissions to win the TUF Middleweight tournament, including not one, but two armbar victories over CB Dolloway and even a submission of Matt Brown (yes, that Matt Brown). Sadollah’s takedown defense is about average, and that will be the critical piece of this matchup – whether he can stop Akiyama’s takedown attempts. Overall, Sadollah has only used his grappling defensively, having had to fight off his back for the majority of his time spent on the mat. Likely accustom to the position of underdog, Sadollah has proven durable even against high level grapplers like Dong Hyun Kim. Sadollah is more likely to be the fighter on his back, but don’t expect him to be easy for Akiyama to finish. Reed’s Pick: The Over (Sadollah by Decision) (click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: Calling the upset for Sadollah in Japan is a tough call. If Akiyama plays to his strengths, he could grind this out on the mat or even catch Sadollah with some inspired counter-striking. But assuming the lines are juicy enough for the underdog, Sadollah makes for a reasonable upset pick based on his durability and eager blue-collar pace. More important, the total seems clearly to favor the Over. The Over of 2.5 rounds is -155, the Under +125. Given that Welterweights finish about half of all fights, the line is suggesting a slight lean towards more durable fighters. The history here certainly supports that, as Sadollah has only been finished once in his career (by current champion Johnny Hendricks), and Akiyama forced both Jake Shields and Michael Bisping to decisions, and was only finished at Middleweight (once by TRT Phenom Vitor Belfort, and a submission to Leben). All signs point to both fighters being gritty enough to push the other to the distance. The Over makes the best play here, with a potential upset play depending where lines end up. If the points prop for Sadollah is plus money, that means you can pick him to at least steal a round. “Fightnomics” the book is now available on Amazon! Follow along on Twitter for the latest UFC stats and MMA analysis, or on Facebook, if you prefer.